Early Learning Still Critical to Long Term Education Success for Children

Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood

First things first, I have to give a shout out to Susan Main, the retiring CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Duval County.
I met Susan years ago in a former life as a City Councilman. From the first time I met her I was amazed by her energy and zeal for children. I remember thinking – wow, is she always this excited about early learning?

The answer is yes! She has been a tireless advocate for children and education throughout her career. Most average citizens in Northeast Florida have no idea who she is, but she’s been an early education giant throughout the state. Other early learning coalitions throughout Florida have modeled their operations after Duval County because of Susan’s hard work and ability to build a world-class organization.

After nearly 17 years of leadership and commitment, Susan will retire and continue her Wonder Woman duties as Super Grandma. She will be missed, and clearly her replacement has extremely large shoes to fill.

Here is what is so unique about the work that Susan and other early education advocates have been responsible for. She helped educate decision makers and change the way we fund education – shifting more dollars to early learning programs. It may seem simple to some, but it took considerable effort to convince politicians and public administrators that research clearly supported the need to focus on quality early learning.
If a child starts elementary school already behind their peers then that student will always struggle to catch up and achieve.

For African Americans, poor early education and parental involvement have been major issues that have hurt student achievement. I truly believe that in the past blacks could point to the education system and blame the government for not properly educating our children, but today we can’t do that.

The education of our children is so much broader than the schools they attend, and as parents we can make education a priority and start leveling the playing field through early learning programs and our efforts at home.

So the charge to parents is simple – take ownership in your child’s education. I hear teachers say it all the time. The students who normally succeed are the one’s whose parents are active in their child’s school lives and push their children to achieve.

There are students that are self-motivated and need very little parental support, but those students are definitely the exception and not the rule.
For African Americans it has been so important that families focus on education especially considering the obvious challenges of our past in this country. “Education is the sole and only hope of the Negro race in America,” stated Booker T Washington.

Back to early education, I am not sure that most people realize that the success of every child is often times determined before he or she is in the third grade. May not sound believable, but it’s true. Decades of research has proved it and study after study has reinforced the notion that those early years are critical to a child’s social, mental and emotional development. High quality early-learning experiences are significant to our children’s success.

I have often written about the importance of universal healthcare, but universal early childhood education is just as critical. Think about it – families that have the funds to afford quality preschool care have a clear advantage over low-income families that can’t afford effective childcare.

Yes I know, life isn’t fair, but providing quality childcare opportunities for all low incomes families is an investment in our future as a country, not just the individual child.

The organization Nationswell, which focuses on advocacy for early childhood education, has studied the topic for years.

According to Nationswell, “Much of what you need to succeed in life is established before you enter kindergarten. During that time, the human brain undergoes rapid development; it’s a period when a child builds cognitive skills — the foundation for reading, math, science and academics — as well as character skills, social-emotional growth, gross-motor skills and executive functioning, which includes everything from impulse control to problem solving.“

The state of Florida has invested in early childhood education for all four-year-old students. Although the program is underfunded in my opinion, all four year olds are able to attend half a day of free childcare at licensed intuitions. It’s certainly better than nothing, but the state can do more.
Some states have strong programs and other states have not made early learning a priority. Thanks to Susan Main, Duval County and the entire state of Florida understands the importance early childhood education.

Enjoy retirement Susan.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela.

Signing off from the Duval County ELC,
Reggie Fullwood

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